Enjoying yourself? said a voice behind me.
It was Mr Maudsley, also bent on meteorological investigation.
Wriggling (I could not help wriggling when he spoke to me) I told him that I was.
'Been pretty hot today,' he remarked.
'Is it a record?' I asked eagerly.
'I shouldn't be surprised,' he said. I shall have to look it up. Hot weather suit you?'
L. P. Hartley The Go-Between (1953)
Last night the man on the television set said that this August was quite possibly going to be the hottest on record, with temperatures touching 100 °F. In our Brave New World of topsy-turvy weather this was reassuring news. For this is how August should be. There is something evocative about this time of the year, reminiscent of languid summer holidays in Italy and France (the under-rated Rumer Godden re-creates this brilliantly in her once-famous novel, The Greengage Summer), drousy wasps and ripening fruit; spider's webs and haystacks; or the vacuous laziness of the South of France in Françoise Sagan's rights-of-passage novella, Bonjour Tristesse; or the harvest moons, dusty cornfields and deer-parks of Norfolk, so beautifully depicted in Joseph Losey's film, The Go-Between.
If I was ever banished to a desert island and was only- God Forbid!- allowed to take just one book, it would have to be a toss up between The Great Gatsby and The Go-Between; an agonising decision, as both books, I think, are contenders for 'the most beautiful novel ever written in the English language' competition.
What's the most appropriate food for this month? The French, of course, are very good at this, and I'm thinking long painted tin tables set up on gravel outside Breton and Norman Manor Houses, stuffed with friends, family and photogenic well-behaved children all drinking the chilled local hooch and having a jolly good time. Cue the music of Fauré and Debussy.
Oh, so much more desirable than the hell of the pseudo-Antipodean English barbeque: the flimsy orange Sputnik rocking on it's rickety tripod, the under-cooked salmonella drumsticks wrapped in tin-foil, the cold lumpy barbeque sauce, the hearty Neanderthals in their Ralph Lauren polo shirts with their ridiculous over-sized logos knocking back cans of lager. One of them always has to be in charge, have you noticed that? A spooky, control freak, he-man, fire-making thing going on there. And then you have to stare at the hideous contraption all the year round, rusting on your terrace, when the truth is that you've probably only used it once or twice due to the vagaries of our beloved English climate. No. I don't like barbeques. Family lunches in the French manner are so much more appealing. And a home-made sorbet would be perfect for this, would it not?
Françoise Sagan's House, photograph from The Peak of Chic.
Back in 2008 (loyal Greasy Spooners may remember) I came up with my own recipe for an Earl Grey Sorbet flavoured with Orange. I didn't have an ice-cream maker then, so I experimented using a plastic carton. And by golly, it worked.
I mixed a cup of sugar with two cups of water, and brought it to the boil; then simmered it for about five minutes, and left it to cool down. Next, I mixed in several spoons of prepared Earl Grey tea, with a squeeze of fresh orange juice, and infused the mix with some fresh mint leaves (which I previously rolled around between my fingers to release the oils). I tipped this liquid into the sugar and water (first removing the mint leaves), mixed it around, and left it to cool.
I poured the tea flavoured sugar water into a plastic container, and shoved it into the deep freeze. It was then taken out of the deep freeze when half-frozen, mashed up with a fork, and shoved back into the deep freeze again. Once frozen, it was taken out, mixed up again in the Magimix and put back into the deep freeze before use.
It would be a good idea to experiment further, perhaps reducing the sugar and adding more of the tea. The sorbet comes out a lovely, very subtle light biscuity colour and looks utterly appealing. Your friends and guests- seated at that Long French Tin Table Under The Vines- will be impressed.
The number one aim of sorbets is to achieve that silky smooth texture. I know I talk about 'freezing' but actually you don't really want the mixture to freeze. It's not an ice-lolly. It's not a flavoured ice-cube. There are a few tricks to help you achieve this.
There's an excellent recipe for Armagnac Sorbet in Michel Roux Jr's The Gavroche Cookbook. The Rouxs add glucose to their syrup as it helps stop the sugar crystallise. This is a useful technique to know about, and it might be worth adding a small dollop of glucose to my Earl Grey recipe. The other trick is to add a bit of alcohol- as it stops the whole thing from freezing. But in this case I think alcohol would be best left to the armagnac and vodka sorbets. Alcohol and tea is not necessarily a good match. It's an elegant plan to serve the sorbet as a palate cleanser- between courses, rather than as a pudding or at the end of lunch. I'll leave it to you.